Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

English 101:

The "apathetic fallacy" or fallacy of attribution
of no feeling to that which cannot but feel
is endemic in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism.
Here is a common example: A young man
goes strolling after the first spring shower,
feels in every vibrant budding tree,
each whistling robin, each droplet on each petal,
in each salvo of tender and fiery greens -

feels a surging joy as vivid as his own
and writes a poem that says so. A critic who,
with little life of his own, is unable to feel
the life that surrounds him (only enough
to suspect it may be disruptive) - a critic
long sequestered in theories of biochemical
mechanics that comfortably anaesthetize
lacerations he's inflicted on himself and others -
and to whom even the young man's joy
is a possibly contagious rash,

such a critic, reading the young man's poem,
proclaims (as student pens wag busily),
"See how the poet attributes his emotion
to birds, trees and flowers? That
is the PATHETIC FALLACY!" (Students
circle these words for the next quiz.)

The critic's proclamation is a perfect example
of the Apathetic Fallacy: Feeling nothing himself,
he ascribes his absence of feeling
to all life. He assumes, for example,
that birds and leaves cannot feel joy
and that the young poet cannot feel
the joy of others. He does not say
(but cherishes the secret thought)
that even the young man's joy
is brain circuits on the fritz
or good digestion.

But this is unfair, calling it a fallacy,
for after the lecture, the critic
walks to his mud-spattered car
past dull grey-green bushes,
mite-ridden sparrows that jitter and hop
like wind-up toys - he is right:
it is a joyless world.

by Dean Blehert